April 11, 2018123456789RHE
Win: Mommersteeg (1-0) 6.063323
Loss: FISCHER (1-2) 1.047220
Shaikin (VALPO) 433430
Eggimann (VALPO) 333711
Baseball to Host Milwaukee in Midweek Matchup
Monday, April 9, 2018
Baseball to Host Milwaukee in Midweek Matchup
Michael Mommersteeg is expected to start Wednesday against Milwaukee.

Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will play its lone home contest over a 12-game stretch on Wednesday afternoon as the Crusaders welcome former Horizon League foe Milwaukee for a midweek matchup. The game will take place on the University’s annual Valpo Day.

Last Time Out: The Crusaders dropped two of three at Southern Illinois this past weekend in their first road series as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. After suffering a 6-2 setback in Friday’s opener, the Crusaders flipped the script to beat the Salukis 6-2 on Saturday behind a complete game by starting pitcher Trey Ferketic. Valpo dropped a rubber match for the second straight Sunday, losing 8-0 with seven of Southern Illinois’ eight runs coming in the fifth inning.

On the Air: Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and online via the TuneIn Radio app with Ben Ariano calling the play-by-play. Live stats will also be available.

Series Notes: Valpo holds a 32-39 all-time mark against their former Horizon League adversaries. The Crusaders swept all three meetings from the Panthers a year ago, taking both ends of a doubleheader on May 13 at Henry Aaron Field before winning a single game at Emory G. Bauer Field the following week. The two teams were scheduled to play twice more to close out the regular season in Valpo, but inclement weather prevented those games from taking place. The Crusaders have a four-game winning streak over the Panthers dating back to 2016. Chase Dawson (4-for-7) and Scott Kapers (6-for-12, 4 RBIs) both had success against Milwaukee last season. Dawson is hitting .391 in nine career games against the Panthers.

Going the Distance: Valpo starting pitcher Trey Ferketic hurled a 130-pitch complete game in the middle game of this past weekend’s series at Southern Illinois, limiting the Salukis to two runs on two walks and nine hits while striking out seven. Ferketic became the first Crusader to throw a complete game since April 23, 2017, when Ellis Foreman went the distance in a 9-0 win over Wright State.

Five-Hit Day: Blake Billinger racked up five hits in Valpo’s 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday. He became the second Valpo hitter to post a five-hit game this season, joining Chase Dawson, who went 5-for-6 against CSUN on March 2, a 14-13 loss. Valpo has two five-hit games this season after having one (Nolan Lodden, 2016) in the previous seven years combined. Furthermore, Billinger became the first Crusader since Justin Frane on April 3, 2010 against Chicago State to go 5-for-5 in a game.

More Billinger ‘Bits: With leading hitter Zack Leone sidelined by an injury, Blake Billinger stepped up in a big way in the three-game series at Southern Illinois. The Valpo left fielder boosted his season batting average to .374 by clubbing .769 (10-for-13) in the weekend series. He and Chase Dawson combined for all five of Valpo’s hits in Sunday’s series finale, three of which belonged to Billinger. The junior college transfer has a team-leading 14 multi-hit games and also leads the club with four three-hit contests. Billinger ranks second in The Valley in doubles with 13, behind only Dallas Baptist’s Jameson Hannah (14).

About the Pitching Matchup: A pair of lefties are expected to take the mound on Wednesday as Valpo’s Michael Mommersteeg pitches opposite Milwaukee’s Alex Fischer. Mommersteeg will make his second start of the season and first since March 4 at Grand Canyon. He worked 3 2/3 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits in his most recent outing on March 26 vs. Ball State. This will be his seventh appearance of the year. He has one save and an 11.94 ERA in 17 1/3 innings thus far. Fischer is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in seven games, one start. He has worked 10 2/3 innings. Fischer started against the Crusaders on May 13 of last season in Milwaukee, taking the loss after allowing three runs on five hits and three walks in two innings.

Triple Time: Valpo’s Chase Dawson notched his fourth triple of the season on Sunday at Southern Illinois. He took over sole possession of the MVC lead with four triples on the season. In the process, the Valpo junior became the first Crusader since Andy Burns in 2013 to have four triples in a single season.

Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Position Players

  • Chase Dawson, 2B: Had already surpassed his career high for RBIs in a single season before conference play even began. Had 15 RBIs in 52 games last season after having 17 in 49 games as a freshman. Has 19 in the first 27 games of this season, four of them coming on a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… Hit .221 over the first 29 games last season before batting .364 over the final month (April 23 – May 24, 16 games), leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage (.364) during that stretch… Has led off and started at second base for Valpo every game this season… A local to Northwest Indiana – Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native… Has four triples this season, which ranks first in the MVC… First Valpo player with four triples since Andy Burns in 2013… Had a six-game slump where he went 0-for-19 before busting out of it with a hit on Saturday at Southern Illinois and followed with a two-hit day on Sunday against the Salukis.
  • Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all 27 games this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Has started at shortstop the last 15 games after starting the first 12 games at third base. Switched positions with Chad Jacob… Has batted second for Valpo in every game this season… Drilled his fourth home run of the year on Friday at Southern Illinois, equaling his season total from a year ago and lifting his career total to eight.
  • Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third and started in left field in every game this season… Hit a home run against Alabama in his first at-bat as a Crusader… Had a three-double game on March 2 vs. CSUN, becoming the first Valpo player with three doubles in a game since Andrew Quinnette on April 26, 2008 against Butler… Ranks second in the MVC in doubles with 13, behind only DBU’s Jameson Hannah (14)… Hit .769 (10-for-13) in a three-game series at Southern Illinois (April 6-8), becoming the first Crusader since 2010 to go 5-for-5 in a game… Owns a 16-game on-base streak, Valpo’s longest of the season.
  • Giovanni Garbella, DH: Missed nine games with an injury this season … Entered April 9 of last season hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 26 games and was a career .204 hitter over three years. He hit .380 the rest of the way with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the season… Drove in a season-high four runs and launched his fourth homer of the season in Valpo’s 6-2 win on April 7 at SIU. The long ball was the 11th of his career.
  • Zack Leone, 1B: Transferred to Valpo this season after having tremendous success from 2014-2017 at Susquehanna, where he was named an All-American by D3Baseball.com and the ABCA… Racked up 178 hits (fourth all-time), a .405 average (second all-time), 112 RBIs (second all-time), 49 doubles (program record), 18 home runs (second all-time), a .470 career OBP and a .641 career slugging percentage in his time at the Division III level… Valpo’s leading hitter at .423 in 20 games… Leads The Valley in batting average… Had seven RBIs in a game on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff, becoming just the second player in the Missouri Valley Conference with a seven RBI game this season… Of his 23 RBIs, 21 have come with two outs. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Leone is hitting .611 (11-for-18) with 20 RBIs… Missed all three games at Southern Illinois (April 6-8) with a hand injury.
  • Chad Jacob, 3B: Before March 9 at Loyola Marymount, hadn’t started a game at third base since his freshman year in 2015, but has started at third every game since, switching positions with SS Sam Shaikin… Has played in every game this season after dealing with various injuries through his first three collegiate campaigns… Leader on Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee… Batted fifth for the first time this season and the second time in his career (2016) on Sunday at Southern Illinois.
  • Scott Kapers, C: Missed three games this season before returning to the lineup on March 28 at Purdue after starting 52 of 53 games last season … Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last year and has upped that to 50 percent this year… Batted a team-best .378 over the final 14 games of 2017 and started this season with a .317 average over the first 18 games. Has made tremendous offensive strides since batting .196 as a freshman… Batted sixth for the first time this season at SIU on Sunday… Brother Jake, also a catcher, has signed his NLI to play at Valpo starting next season.
  • Riley Dent, RF: Brother Ryan has played 10 minor league seasons in the Red Sox and Cubs organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A… Leads the team with 15 walks.
  • Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 21 RBIs after having 13 all of last season…Ranks second on the team to only Leone in RBIs…Drilled a three-run homer in the ninth inning of an 11-7 victory over Grand Canyon on March 4. The homer was extra special for Eggimann, who started his collegiate career at Grand Canyon and is a native of the Phoenix area.
  • Brent Jones, 1B: Started all three games at Southern Illinois this past weekend, filling in for injured first baseman Zack Leone.

A Weekend To Remember: The Crusaders picked up several signature wins in the same day on Feb. 24 in Norman, Okla. Valpo upended host Oklahoma, a team ranked 28th nationally, 11-4 in the first game of the day, before routing Holy Cross 20-6. Both Oklahoma and Holy Cross reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The 20 runs in a game were Valpo’s most since April 2, 2010 (26 against Chicago State). The final game of the weekend in Norman saw the Crusaders take the Sooners to extra innings, but Oklahoma prevailed 3-2.

Ninth Inning Magic: On March 2 against CSUN – a neutral site game at GCU Ballpark in Phoenix – Valpo scored nine times in the top of the ninth to create a 13-13 tie. Chase Dawson capped the miraculous rally with a two-run homer, but CSUN walked off with a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 14-13 victory.

Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past on March 30 when Zack Leone crushed a three-run, walk-off home run, Valpo's first game-ending long ball in over 15 years. The swing that sent Valpo to a 5-2, 10 inning victory over Bradley for its first Missouri Valley Conference triumph also allowed the team to lay to rest the ghosts of the program's recent past. Three of the Crusaders’ first five losses this season came in walk-off fashion, while Valpo has been hurt by walk-off home runs in the past as well – most recently last year’s season opener at Western Kentucky and most notably a 2013 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana.   

In The Other Dugout – Milwaukee: The Panthers stand at .500 in Horizon League play after winning series against Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky and dropping series to Wright State and Oakland. The Horizon League is back to six teams with each club playing the other five teams six times apiece with Valpo’s departure as IUPUI does not have baseball. Milwaukee lost 9-6 at then No. 24 Illinois on March 14, a team Valpo will see in midweek action next week. The Panthers are led by Mike Ferri, who is hitting .337 in 22 games. The team’s top RBI man is Tyler Bordner with 20. The head coach of the Panthers is Scott Doffek, who is in his 12th year at the helm and 24th on Milwaukee’s staff. The Panthers are the only Horizon League team on Valpo’s schedule, while Milwaukee will play another MVC squad in Illinois State later this season.

Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. The former big leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 in 2016. In 2017, Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.

Looking Back: Valpo finished 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.

Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.